Thursday, July 10, 2014

July 10 - Felicitas and her Seven Sons, Martyrs


Felicitas was well acquainted with the costs of her faith. She had lost her beloved husband in service to the Church--likely to the transforming furnace of martyrdom--and been left behind to raise her seven sons without his help. She was very wealthy thanks to the considerable financial resources that she and her husband had accumulated together. Of course, like nearly all of the early Christians, she understood herself--and her husband as well when he was alive--to be a steward of gifts given to the Church. The Church was obligated to pour itself out for others and its stewards were charged with putting the wealth and valuables of the Church into the hands of those in need of God's gifts and blessings. She provided food to the hungry and shelter to the homeless and in doing so she advanced the Kingdom of God among a people outcast from polite Roman society. But those who had something to lose with the advancement of the Kingdom of God--those with power and influence in the empire--were understandably uncomfortable with Felicitas and her seven sons: Januarius, Felix, Philip, Silvanus, Alexander, Vitalius and Marcial. If they wanted to stop her and her sons then they would have to devise a plan to manipulate those who had the power to put an end to Felicitas and her seven sons.

So, the priestly advisers to the emperor Marcus Aurelius plotted against Felicitas and decided that she could be forced into denying her faith and affirming the values of Rome if the leverage was sufficient. They dressed up in their most impressive ceremonial regalia and came before Marcus Aurelius with deceit in mind. They insisted that the gods demanded a sacrifice to appease their terrible anger and stay their horrible wrath. Furthermore, they said that there was a particular woman being called upon by the gods to make this sacrifice: Felicitas. Marcus Aurelius conceded to their demands and called upon the prefect of Rome--Publius--to arrest Felicitas and force her to make sacrifice to the Roman gods.When they brought her in, they decided to bring her seven sons along with her to serve as leverage because they had heard of her considerable commitment to the God of the Christians and suspected that she might resist their demands--they had no idea how right they were. At first, they simply demanded that she do it to appease the gods of Rome and protect its people. But Felicitas identified their deception for what it was and so Publius questioned her sons, as well. Publius was furious to find out that her sons were equally as devoted to the Christian faith. He didn't want to report his failure to Marcus Aurelius--especially considering the glares he was receiving from the emperor's advisors--and so he decided to try one more tactic.

Labeling Felicitas and her seven sons as traitors to Rome, Publius commanded them to make sacrifice or suffer the consequences. One by one, the sons were dragged before the judges appointed by Publius and forced to kneel to accept their punishment. Publius offered to stay his wrath if Felicitas would make sacrifice and then, each time when Felicitas refused, he ordered the executioners to kill one of her sons. First, her eldest son Januarius was whipped to death while Felicitas was forced to watch. He forgave his murderers and professed his faith and each of his brothers followed in his footsteps. Each of them knew that it was their calling to profess their faith in God's mercy and grace even if it cost them their lives. Each of them knew that it was their mother's calling to refuse sacrifice no matter the cost. Second, they beat Felix to death with a club. When this proved especially gruesome, they decided to beat Philip to death with the same club. Amazed that Felicitas still refused to make sacrifice, they threw Silvanus from the balcony and he died on impact with the ground. Fifth, sixth, and seventh, they beheaded Alexander, Vitalis, and Martialis as if they had grown tired of slaughter and simply wanted the task done. Finally, when Felicitas still refused to make sacrifice, they threw her into prison for several months hopefully to dwell in her grief. When she was brought again before Publius she maintained the faith that had cost the lives of her seven sons and was herself killed for it. Felicitas and her seven sons knew the costs associated with faith in Jesus and paid them willingly and eagerly because it was meager in comparison to the rewards of their calling.

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